Two of Australia’s leading correspondents based out of China have been flown back home.
The reason for flying them back are their safety concerns after they were questioned separately by China’s Ministry of State Security, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported on Tuesday.
The China correspondents for the ABC and the Australian Financial Review (AFR) sought shelter in Australia’s embassy in Beijing and consulate in Shanghai as diplomats negotiated with Chinese officials to allow them to leave the country, the ABC and the AFR reported.
The two journalists are ABC’s Bill Birtles, who was based out of Beijing and AFR’s Michael Smith, who was based out of Shanghai. The two had been banned from leaving China until they answered questions about detained Australian citizen and television anchor Cheng Lei, AFR said in a report.
Reports said that just after midnight on Thursday, seven officers simultaneously visited the homes of both journalists, where they were told of the ban on them leaving China.
Both journalists were told they were “persons of interest” in an investigation into Cheng, a high-profile business anchor on Chinese state television. Cheng has been detained without charges by authorities, the AFR report said.